‘A tour de force’: Writer Kevin Donnellan wins RTÉ Short Story Competition

Winning story to be broadcast followed by runners-up Sara Keating and Dónal Minihane

The Third Day by Kevin Donnellan has won this year’s RTÉ Short Story Competition

The Third Day by Kevin Donnellan has won this year’s RTÉ Short Story Competition

 

The Third Day by Kevin Donnellan has won this year’s RTÉ Short Story Competition, it was announced on Monday night. The long-running fiction competition in honour of Francis MacManus came to a head on RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena, exploring the 10 shortlisted stories and their authors.

Donnellan, an Irish writer and journalist based in England, was recently shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. His story is about a young GAA player whose team has just won the senior final but who seeks to prolong the celebrations long after his teammates have called it a day. Of his winning story, Donnellan said: “I wanted to write something about loneliness and anxiety and how participation in sport can help to ease it – and, sometimes, serve merely to mask it.”

Mamó by Sara Keating and Windsea by Dónal Minihane were joint runners-up in the competition judged by writers Lisa McInerney, Lucy Caldwell and Declan Hughes.

Donnellan wins €3,000, while Keating and Minihane each receive €1,500. The seven runners-up get €250 each.

The Third Day will be read by Éanna Hardwicke at 11.20pm on Monday on RTÉ Radio 1’s Late Date, and the other shortlisted short stories will be broadcast nightly in the same slot, until October 8th.

Keating, a writer and cultural journalist who writes for The Irish Times, was Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council writer in residence where she finished her first novel, Fall and Recover, about the dancer Lucia Joyce. Her story Mamó will be read by Ingrid Craigie on September 28th.

Minihane, a hotelier in Doolin, Co Clare, was a winner of the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair and is doing a PhD in writing at the University of Limerick. His story Windsea is read by Aaron Monaghan on September 29th.

What strikes me hardest about The Third Day is how recognisable our protagonist is; I was so affected by his vulnerability, his self-delusion, his bitterness

Speaking about Donnellan’s winning story, judge McInerney said: “There’s so much to admire here, not least the author’s grasp on rhythm, tension and truth, which are things that are very hard to teach. But what strikes me hardest about The Third Day is how recognisable our protagonist is; I was so affected by his vulnerability, his self-delusion, his bitterness.”

Caldwell said Hardwicke’s reading of The Third Day “rings a real melancholy to it, but you can tell the fun he’s having with it too. The writer is so attuned to the rhythms of speech, and most brilliantly to the way group chats work.” Declan Hughes called it a “superbly structured and framed rites of passage tale of small-town winning and losing, and the narrator’s inability to take the win, to take yes for an answer, featuring sharp dialogue, pitch-perfect narrative voice, skilfully modulated to reflect alcohol-based mood swings and anxiety levels. A tour de force.”

Set up in 1986 to honour writer and broadcaster MacManus, the RTÉ Short Story Competition has been a launch pad for new and emerging writers in Ireland. Past winners and shortlisted writers include Claire Keegan, Danielle McLaughlin, Anthony Glavin, Chris Binchy, Nuala O’Connor, Liz Nugent, Colin Walsh, Stephen Walsh and Sarah Gilmartin.

McInerney said judging the competition was “a highlight of lockdown life for me – reading exciting new work, then hearing stories we’d already connected with brought into even more vivid colour by the actors’ performances”. Caldwell observes that “the first, and most primal, way we encounter stories is through listening to them. The Francis MacManus Award is unique in that its stories are written not just for the page, but for broadcast too.” Hughes said the stories “paint a picture of an anxious, unsettled country, but do so with wit andcompassion, imaginative storytelling and nuanced characterisation.”

rte.ie/writing